Country music’s newest contribution to the crowded mainstream has succeeded in surpassing the industry’s previous expectations and perhaps even dreams: At 19 years old, Taylor Swift is coolly staring down superstardom. 2008’s best-selling artist in the United States, Swift enchanted critics and fans alike with her eponymous debut: The New York Times called it a “small masterpiece of pop-minded country,” and in a year of flagging record sales and gloomy forecasts, Swift sold more than 4 million copies of her unremittingly honest and often unnervingly personal collection of songs. After becoming the only female artist in Billboard country chart history to release five consecutive top ten singles from a debut album, she capped off last year with the BMI Song of the Year trophy for “Teardrops on My Guitar.”
When the time came to follow-up her record-breaking success, she didn’t blink. Her sophomore album Fearless debuted atop Billboard’s cross-genre Top 200 chart, where she remained perched at no. 1 for eight consecutive weeks. Dates for her first headlining tour have enjoyed a presale ticket rush, prompting whispers of anticipated sold-out venues across the country. As the recent musical guest on Saturday Night Live, Swift not only entered waters rarely visited by country music stars: She also generated the highest ratings for the late-night juggernaut since its election night show. Her affair with television doesn’t end with her command of SNL’s witty repartee: She recently completed filming her guest role on top-rated crime drama CSI, and on Sunday, February 8, she will perform her self-composed buzz song “Fifteen” on the Grammys’ live telecast, with a bit of help from friend Miley Cyrus.
Swift has harnessed the powerful potential of the Internet unlike any previous country artist. Her personal interaction with fans through MySpace made her the social networking site’s most-searched artist of last year, and her own page has generated more than 157 million streams.
While her multi-media domination undeniably helps fuel the world’s insatiable appetite for all things Taylor Swift, her songwriting provides her career’s already broad and solid foundation. Rolling Stone joined the enthusiastic majority currently singing her praises, calling Swift “a songwriting savant with an intuitive gift.”
Jaded interviewers are often bewitched not only by her maturity, but also by her intellect, while music critics can’t help falling for her three-minute, hook-laden tales of teenage vulnerability and strength.
“I try to write lyrics about what’s happening to me and leave out the part that I live in hotel rooms and tour buses,” she recently told the New York Times. “It’s the relatability factor. If you’re trying too hard to be the girl next door, you’re not going to be.”